Mary Tutwiler

Breaux Bridge residents stalk out of zoning meeting

by Mary Tutwiler

A contingent of furious residents of Breaux Bridge walked out of a zoning hearing last night,  claiming that they had been insulted by a consultant hired to rewrite the town’s antiquated zoning ordinance. Dr. Dennis Ehrhardt, geography and urban regional planning professor at UL, who has been working to update the town’s ordinance, faced a packed room of residents who were anxious about the possible changes to their property values, commercial enterprises and to the texture of life in the small bayou-side town.

Carl Brazell, a semi-retired business consultant who lives and has an office in downtown Breaux Bridge says Ehrhardt was "brusque, abrupt, rude, dismissive, abrasive and arrogant" in addressing questions from the audience. When one of the members of the audience asked Ehrhardt for his qualifications, Brazell says, Ehrhardt “became highly indignant and snapped that the question was totally out of order.” The meeting became so acrimonious that at one point, Ehrhardt offered to walk out himself, saying “I’m not going to work for the city of Breaux Bridge again,” according to the Teche News. City official Randy Cormier, who was sitting in the audience, the Teche News reports, characterized the departing group as carpetbaggers, saying, “These people that came in here weren’t born and raised in Breaux Bridge.”

Incoming Chamber of Commerce president Chad Theriot defends the city, the zoning commission and Dr. Ehrhardt, saying that the group of residents who walked out of the meeting last night came spoiling for a fight. The zoning commission called two public hearings this month about the proposed ordinance, one last night to address the residential section of the ordinance, and one scheduled for Feb. 17 to tackle the commercial part of the new code. “The two meetings were clearly labeled,” says Theriot. “The only reason those people got upset last night, was that every one wanted to talk about the downtown area. They have very valid concerns about the downtown commercial area with residential living.” The proposed ordinance prohibits residences in the historic downtown.

Members of the audience wanted to address residential issues within the downtown commercial district, but were cut off by Ehrhardt, who insisted that their concerns would be taken up in two weeks, at the meeting designated for the commercial part of the ordinance. “Technically, he’s [Ehrhardt’s] correct,” says Theriot, “but these people didn’t want to hear that, they wanted to make their drama statement and get on the news.” Ehrhardt says he was attempting to stay on point when the meeting erupted. “I said a couple of times ‘that’s not what we’re here to discuss, that’s next time,’ but it’s quite obvious they didn’t want to hear that” he says. “And then it turned into a personal attack on me. Kill the messenger. I’m not on the commission, I don’t vote,” he continues, “I’m just there to answer questions. That’s an area that was not to be discussed last night. And that’s it.” Ehrhardt is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, has been a planner for 30 years and has consulted with parish and city governments in Louisiana and out of state. Currently he is working with Iberia Parish.

Frank Dupuis, owner of Coffee Break in downtown Breaux Bridge says the meeting was very poorly handled and insensitive to the town’s residents. Dupuis who is also a hospital operations consultant who facilitates meetings for a living, complained that there was no clear agenda and no anticipation of handling concerns about the downtown district, which had surfaced since the document had been published, about a month ago. The group that left the meeting gathered at the Coffee Break last night to discuss further action. The outcome of that ad hoc meeting is that there is a groundswell to get rid of Dr. Ehrhardt, “The people agree that Ehrardt has to go,” says Brazell. “We can’t have dialogue because he’s so damned rude.”